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Saturday, February 20, 2016

New Zealand v Australia, First Test, Basin Reserve, Third Day, 14 February 2016



If yesterday’s play was pedestrian, today’s was a pleasant saunter in the sun, fast enough to keep the scenery changing sufficiently to maintain interest. The Basin was perfect: blazing sun, the breeze no more than a rumour. There was even a bushfire on Mt Victoria to make the Australians feel at home.

Voges was last out, for 239, with Australia’s lead 379. Perhaps my judgement of Voges after the second day was a little severe. A test double century—a chanceless one too, the phantom no-ball aside—is always an achievement, even if (to borrow a phrase from Robertson-Glasgow’s Cricket Prints, purchased from the Basin bookstall) he overdid the tranquillity at times. He scored only 26 in the first hour, but once he passed 200—completed in the same way as his century, off a Craig full toss—he became more expansive and hit three sixes. Like Khawaja he could have a significant test career in the afternoon of his playing life. On the other hand, he could retire now with an average of 97 and have his name follow Bradman’s for eternity.

There were four caught-and-bowleds in the innings. I can’t establish whether this is a record, but am sure that I have not seen so many before. Anderson’s to dismiss Lyon was even better than Boult’s against Marsh yesterday. He had to change direction in mid-follow through, a move that necessitated the execution of a half somersault as he scooped up the ball fingers brushing the turf.

New Zealand had to face one over before lunch. Did they consider a lunch watchman? Of course not, but would such a thing be any less illogical than a night watchman? Steve Waugh got it right by banning this pessimistic and fearful notion during his captaincy.

After lunch, Martin Guptill hit three fours to the mid-wicket boundary off Siddle’s first over. As in the first innings, Guptill looked untroubled until he got out. Nathan Lyon gave an exhibition of how an off spinner should bowl on a flat pitch. He was accurate with variations of flight and pace. These induced false shots and running catches to dismiss both Guptill and Latham. The contrast with Craig’s performance was stark.

The fall of Latham brought in McCullum, for the last time at the Basin. We stood to applaud him all the way, the moisture in our eyes sufficient to quench the bushfire. There were a couple of chancy fours, then he was pinned on the back leg by Marsh. Umpire Kettleborough took a long time to raise the finger, apparently as keen as we were to find a loophole in the prosection’s case, but the review showed it to be a sound decision. So we rose again and McCullum acknowledged the ovation. Then he was gone.

The company on the back row of the lower tier of the RA Vance Stand was excellent. If you ever come to the Basin for a test, that’s the place to head for. I particularly enjoyed meeting two Australian visitors. There was Michelle from Sydney; the Basin and Hagley Park are her 36th and 37th test venues as a spectator. When I made reference to Jason Gillespie’s famous double hundred at Chittagong, she said “yes, I was there for that one”.

And there was Max from Wagga Wagga, who recently spent Aus$16,000 of his redundancy money on a copy of the rare 1916 edition of Wisden. He pretty well cleaned out the bookstall at tea time, and I was pleased to give him a lift into town at the end of the day rather than see him risk injury staggering down Kent Terrace with his haul. I was only sorry that my Khandallah correspondent was not present to gain an appreciation that I am really at the lower end of the cricket book collectors’ spectrum.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

New Zealand v Australia, First Test, Basin Reserve, Second Day, 13 February 2016



We’ve been here before. At the Basin Reserve tests of both the last two years, in fact. New Zealand skittled on a green pitch on the first day; the opposition runs up a good lead on the second. So what happens next? According to precedent, BJ Watling breaks the world sixth wicket partnership record. This he did against India in 2014 with Brendon McCullum, and against Sri Lanka last year with Kane Williamson. If the laws of probability intervene to prevent this, New Zealand are in a heap of trouble, as you tend to be if you finish the second day with the opposition 280 ahead with four wickets standing.

The day was a little pedestrian. In the seventies we would have been thrilled with 316 runs in a day’s play, but only three wickets fell, so it is churlish to think that Australia should have motored on a bit more?

Usman Khawaja’s century was the best cricket of the day. He reached three figures off a Craig long hop, though the Basin scoreboard had a bulb missing as usual, so some spectators thought he was moving from 95 to 99. Khawaja went on to make 140 with an ease and repertoire of shot that makes him a delight to watch. He has had a stuttered start to his international career, but four hundreds in 13 tests speaks for itself. Almost 30, he looks set to emulate Mike Hussey in having a late start to a notable career.

Adam Voges’ figures are similar, and he batted all day to finish unbeaten on 176. This is worthy of high praise of course. And yet… Of course, the fact that he was bowled off an erroneously called no ball in the last over yesterday may colour the judgement of his innings. Perhaps the runs he scored today should be properly credited to the career record of umpire Richard Illingworth, which would more than double his nine-test batting aggregate.

Voges scored only 33 in the morning session, and took 203 balls to reach three figures; against a tiring attack on a flat track. By way of variation, Craig offered up a full toss to help him across the line.

Voges did speed up later in the day, with some strong cuts and drives, but there were plenty of edges too. It wasn’t fluent. This innings  reminded me of Keith Fletcher of Essex and England, not in its style, but in its anonymity. Fletcher scored seven test hundreds, but hands up who can remember any of them. Thought not.

But Voges has put his side in a winning position, which was why he was picked.

Two of the three wickets to fall today went in the same Boult over. Khawaja was leg before playing back to the new ball. It looked a bit high and it was surprising that he didn’t call for a review. New Zealand did take this option next ball for a leg before against Mitch Marsh. We might balance the deserved tsunami of praise for Brendon McCullum with this thought: he is a shocking DRS decision maker. This one got the trifecta: pitched outside leg, inside edge and missing.

Marsh lasted only one more ball. Boult took a glorious return catch, flinging himself to his right in his follow through, and holding on with his fingertips. He has a history of making corking catches in Basin tests: Rahane and Ramdin were other victims in recent years.

Marsh, Phillips, Healy, Gilchrist, Haddin. A line of keepers noted for their attacking, joyful batting. It seems that the chain has been broken with Peter Nevill, who made a stodgy 32 from 94 balls.

The New Zealand attack persevered, but was largely unthreatening. Off spinner Mark Craig keeps taking wickets at this level but does not exert pressure. To put it another way, he does not take wickets at the other end as a good spinner should do. Neither was Corey Anderson’s reputation enhanced. There was bluster, but no bite and there were four runs or more an over for the taking.

So it was the same old story in trans-Tasman sport (apart from the rugby, obviously): hope with disappointment in its wake. But it was a fine day with a sold out signs up, so not bad at all.


Friday, February 12, 2016

New Zealand v Australia, First Test, Basin Reserve, First Day, 12 February 2016

The contest for sport’s most unoriginally named prize begins. Australia and New Zealand will contest the Trans-Tasman Trophy over two matches this week and next. Where’s the history, the romance, the inspiration? It should be the Clarrie Grimmett Trophy, after the Dunedin-born, Wellington-schooled leg spinner who bowled thousands of overs on the Basin before crossing the Tasman to play 37 tests for Australia, finishing with a world-record 216 wickets.
There has been much conjecture about the pitch ahead of the game, and at the start of the day it did indeed have about it a sufficiently verdant hue to suggest that it would provide a moderately hungry sheep with a decent lunch. In New Zealand we have fixed on the idea that the Australians are flat-track bullies. By way of reinforcing this notion Wellington’s Dominion Post this morning featured a large-type scorecard of Australia’s first innings at Trent Bridge last August, in which they were bowled out for 60.
Alas, Brendon McCullum lost the toss, so it was the home side who were the laboratory beagles testing how toxic the pitch was.
Fifty-one for five by drinks. It wasn’t one of those sessions where the ball was constantly beating or finding the edge. Most of the batsmen—Guptill and Williamson in particular—looked comfortable until they got out. The run rate was more than six an over for the first six overs. But once the bowlers found their line and length the ball did just enough.
Peter Siddle was outstanding. It is difficult to believe that a vegan can bowl such bustling aggression, but today he put the ball on the right spot time and again. Hazlewood bowled better when he had Siddle’s example to follow. Jackson Bird did not have such a good day, bowling an Australian length on a New Zealand pitch.
Anderson and Watling managed a partial recovery with a partnership that took New Zealand through to lunch. Watling and Bracewell were out soon after lunch, but Anderson batted for almost two-and-a-half hours for his 38. Yet it was not an innings that increased confidence in Anderson as a test No 6. It included six fours, which goes to show how difficult he found it to score singles and rotate the strike. At this point Mitchell Santner (absent with a foot injury here) looks a better fit in this position.
Anderson struck Nathan Lyon over mid on for four when the off spinner returned mid-afternoon, but was succoured by a slight change of pace into chipping the next ball tamely to mid off. Tim Southee attempted to get off the mark by slogging over long on and was caught at backward point, giving Lyon his second wicket in two overs at bargain basement cost.
Why Southee bats above Trent Boult is a mystery to everybody who was at the Basin today. That New Zealand finished with as many as 183 was due to Boult, who hit three sixes—stroked would be a better word, such was the refinement of the shots—and put on 46 for the tenth wicket with Mark Craig.
There was early promise for New Zealand, with Southee dismissing both openers in his first two overs. Smith was dropped by Craig at second slip, and Watling missed a tough stumping chance off Craig when Khawaja advanced down the pitch, but there was an ease about the batting of both men that had been absent from New Zealand’s innings. I was a surprise when Smith hit a low return catch to Craig to be dismissed for 71.
New Zealand’s difficult day was compounded in the final over of the day when Bracewell bowled Voges only to have Richard Illingworth call no ball. Replays showed a heel clearly behind the line.
I remember Colin Cowdrey’s hundredth test, at Edgbaston against Australia in 1968. It seemed an extraordinary feat, and some doubted that it would ever be equalled. Today, Brendon McCullum became the 64th to achieve the feat, but he is the first to do so with consecutive appearances, something that we may very well not see again. Cowdrey scored a hundred way back when, but McCullum made a duck today, a Bradmanesque response, perhaps, to a standing ovation.
At the end of the day I was waiting for my Khandallah correspondent to pick me up outside the ground when one of a passing group of young fellows pointed at me and said “look, it’s Tony Greig” (I wear a white hat similar to that sported habitually by the late commentator, and am tall, though not as tall as him). Fortunately, I keep at my disposal a Tony Greig impersonation that suffices on such occasions. Doffing the hat, I said “good awfternoon gentlemen, let’s have a look at the pitch here at the Basin, where it will go like a tracer bullet”. I think that I made their day.